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MPs See Opportunity for Reform of Harsh Family Migration Rules

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Posted on July 13th 2017

On Tuesday, families packed a room in parliament to tell MPs about their pain and heartbreak at being separated from their loved ones, and to hear how together we can push for meaningful change. The expert panel outlined the case for change, while passionate contributions from families drove home the need for concerted action in this new parliament.

There was cross-party consensus from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative politicians that the separation of law-abiding British and settled families is disproportionate and unnecessary. Suggestions for achieving rule change through a future Immigration Bill (expected within the next two years) were also optimistically received. Brexit was put forward as an opportunity for examining the immigration system more widely and demanding a fairer system for all. The need was also stressed for MPs to force the Government to implement the Supreme Court’s recommendations in the case of MM & Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is now vital that affected families speak out and lobby their own MPs so that this issue can no longer be ignored.  

Yesterday’s meeting marked five years since new Immigration Rules were introduced. These Rules have caused devastation and heartbreak for thousands of British and settled families. A Minimum Income Requirement of £18,600 before being able to sponsor a non-European spouse or partner (a threshold that 41% of British citizens do not meet), and a restrictively high dependency threshold for sponsoring adult relatives, are among the most damaging aspects of the Rules. In 2015, it was estimated that at least 15,000 mostly British children had faced separation from a parent as a result. Others are barred from living with their grandparents in the UK.  

Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston and long-standing supporter of families divided by these Rules, chaired the meeting, reminding all attending of the importance of continuing to campaign for change.

 

"What did we do wrong? We fell in love”

Caroline gave a heartfelt and moving account of her family’s battle to live together in the UK. A court case on Friday will determine whether her Ecuadorian husband Carlos will be allowed to stay with his British wife and 18-month-old son in the UK.

Her story will resonate with many families who have found themselves in a similar position. The couple decided to return to the UK so that their child would have the best start in life. She then discovered that she was expected to be earning at least £18,600, despite the fact that she had a new-born baby.

Caroline spoke of the emotional and mental impact of her husband’s visa refusal and the battle to stay together – feeling like she was going mad at times, unable to enjoy life, and feeling anxious and depressed. She also highlighted the impact on children, the unintended victims of the Rules keeping families apart. However, she also recognised that despite her pain and frustration, she is still lucky to have her husband and son with her, unlike many “Skype Families” separated indefinitely by the Rules. They are determined fight to remain together as a family. 

 

Campaigning Together

Saira Grant, JCWI’s Chief Executive, spoke about how to build the campaign for meaningful rule change and the importance of families, campaigners, lawyers and MPs working together. She highlighted how the Rules do not achieve their stated aims – many British citizens are forced to rely on benefits because they are left as sole carers of small children and forced to give up work. The Government’s claim that the Rules will promote integration is also utterly unevidenced. Meanwhile, research by JCWI and others demonstrates the enormous psychological and social impact of separating families.

Saira also raised the issue of British citizens and settled UK residents effectively barred from sponsoring Adult Dependent Relatives from outside the EU from coming to live with them in the UK and benefit from their care. In order to qualify for a visa, elderly relatives must now be so incapacitated that they cannot carry out daily activities, such as washing, dressing or feeding themselves. She stressed the need for families to speak out and share their stories, in order to demonstrate the case for change to politicians and wider society and called on MPs to use this evidence to challenge the Government.

 

What Next After MM?

Saira spoke about the recent Supreme Court ruling in MM & Ors, in which JCWI intervened alongside the Children’s Commissioner for England. Although the judgment upheld the legality of the Minimum Income Requirement for spouse visas, the judges described aspects of the Rules as unjustly harsh and declared the Rules unlawful in how they treat some children affected by decisions. The court also stated that there should be greater flexibility in how couples can evidence their ability to support themselves.

Manjit Gill QC, barrister at No5 chambers and lead counsel for claimants in the Supreme Court case, spoke in more detail about the MM judgment and its implications for families. He demonstrated how at the heart of the judgment lies the important difference between law and policy. The Secretary of State has the power to make policies in principle, and this is lawful in most cases. However, this does not mean that the application of that policy in an individual case is always lawful. The Supreme Court’s ruling restates the need for the Secretary of State to examine each individual case, in order to ensure that any refusal is proportionate and not an unjust interference with a family’s right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Currently, the guidance and Rules do not adequately reflect this and require amending.

Mr Gill QC stressed that families who do not meet the Rules must make sure that they put forward detailed evidence as to why their visa should nonetheless be granted – including evidence that they can support themselves without being a burden on the state, or that a refusal would not be in the best interests of their children.

The Supreme Court has given the Government time to come back and say how they will comply with this judgment. We have now been waiting almost five months. Meanwhile, cases that fall for refusal due to an inability to meet the requirement, or because children stand to be impacted by the refusal, have been put on hold. Mr Gill stressed the need for the Government to be held to account by MPs and forced to comply with the ruling.

 

An Active Voice for Change

Stuart McDonald, MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and shadow SNP spokesperson for Immigration, Asylum and Border Control, reprimanded MPs for their inaction on this issue, despite most having constituents who have been affected. He called on families to lobby their own MP and ensure that the issue can no longer be ignored. Cautious optimism was expressed about the new parliamentary landscape, with stronger cross-party consensus that the Rules are unjust and unfair, despite the renewed Conservative commitment to the net migration target. He assured the meeting that the SNP will continue to fight the Rules as they stand now and act as an active voice for change during the Brexit talks.

 

“I feel embarrassed that I have to explain to my in-laws and others that my wife can’t be with me in the UK.”

The wider harm caused was demonstrated by passionate contributions from the floor, which painted a picture of an uncompassionate and irrational immigration system that often treats applicants with disdain, frequently disregards the right to family life and the best interests of children, and provides a poor and disorganised service.

Families spoke of feeling unwanted by their own country, treated “like rubbish” and held in contempt, all for falling in love with a foreigner. The wider economic inequality embedded in the system was stressed, where reaching settlement for a spouse can cost upwards of £6,000 and fees are rising 20% each year, while applicants who want an update on the status of their application are forced to pay £5 for the privilege of an email from the Home Office.

Grandparents who could support their children and grandchildren in UK spoke of the wider heartache caused by the inflexibility of the financial requirements (which do not allow undertakings of support from family members). A British citizen spoke about the pain of not being able to care for his elderly mother in the UK since his father passed away, despite working full time and being willing to support her financially.#

 

Hope for Change in the New Parliament

Despite the devastating heartache that has been caused to families over the past five years, the meeting showed signs of a consensus among politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as optimism for achieving meaningful change in this parliament. Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, described the new political landscape following the election as an opportunity for MP’s to be brave and challenging on these issues. She also agreed with Kate Green, Stuart McDonald and other MPs at the meeting that a future Immigration Bill is a real opportunity to push for a fairer family migration system with cross-party support.

 

There is still a lot of work to be done, but with a framework for change and cross-party support, we have something to work towards together. Join us in the campaign for the rights of #DividedFamilies! To help us push for change please:

  1. Write to Your MP

It is vital that MPs are made aware of the impact these Rules are having on their constituents. Download a guide and template on how to write to your MP on the left-hand-side of this page. Please send any response to policy@jcwi.org.uk

  1. Tell your Story!

We are currently compiling case studies of families affected by the Minimum Income Requirement and the restrictive rules for Adult Dependent Relatives, to be used in the campaign. These will be anonymous, unless you are happy to be named. If you have been personally affected and you are willing to share your story with us, please email policy@jcwi.org.uk.

  1. Support our work by becoming a member of JCWI.

If you would like to receive updates on the campaign, you can subscribe for blog updates on our website. You can also follow us on Twitter @JCWInews and on Facebook @JCWImmigrants

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